PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Education First-Drapac’s James Whelan Gets PEZ’d!

Education First-Drapac’s James Whelan Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Ed Hood has been talking to hopeful young riders who want to step up to the pro class. James Whelan know's he will be in the World Tour at the end of this season and for the next three years with the Education First-Drapac team. Ed finds out how you go from runner to professional cyclist in a couple of years.

He almost won the Tour of Tasmania in his first year of racing and in his second year won the u23 Ronde Van Vlaanderen - a race there’s a thousand Belgian lads would kill to win – he sounds like a star in the making to us. Jonathan Vaughters of Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale thought so too and Melbourne’s, James Whelan pulls on the pink and lime green strip in August as a stagiaire and the prelude to a three year deal with the World Tour team.

PEZ just had to ‘have a word’ with this guy. . .

PEZ: A three year contract: congratulations James, you must be happy with that one?
James Whelan:
To get a World Tour contract in itself is absolutely amazing.
I am very fortunate to have received a three year contract as well, it’s a great compliment by the team to invest in me with a three year neo-pro contract and I cannot wait to prove my worth both on and off the bike.

PEZ: Tell us about your running career - your chosen distances and results?
I started running during my early years at school. I completed in Australian National level competition as a junior. I competed in the 800m, 1500m, 3000m, and various cross country events during the winter season with my associated club. I made a few national finals in the Australian Track Nationals during my schooling but I never won a championship.

Video produced by cycling content creator Cam Nicholls

PEZ: What was the injury that forced you to quit running - and why choose cycling?
I got an unfortunate Achilles injury in March 2016. This resulted in a transition from running to cycling. I could not simply stop exercising, riding my bike became an alternative form to stay fit and it just happened that I enjoyed it thoroughly and started racing. I fell in love with cycling very quickly due to the people I met, the places I visited and the idea of exploring my surrounding Melbourne roads.

PEZ: How does training to be a runner differ from training to be a pro cyclist?
Running and cycling are both considered aerobic endurance sports however the training is quite different.
Cycling requires 20+ hours of pedalling per week as opposed to the weekly five to six hours for running. That would have to be the biggest differential between the two. The dedication, determination and hard work required to succeed is much the same.

PEZ: You were third in the Tour of Tasmania at the end of your first season - tell us how you managed that.
The Tour of Tasmania was my first tour that I participated in and it provided a pivotal part of my development where I realised my potential as a cyclist and a climber. I was leading the KOM, General Classification and Young Riders as an individual rider against many six man teams. I learned the importance of team mates to retaining classifications when I unfortunately lost the GC in the final stage criterium. The race gave me an idea of the level I was at and gave me great motivation to continue training hard for the Australian summer of racing. My results in this tour got the interest of quite a few and I think I surprised many, including myself!

PEZ: Riding in a big bunch all of a sudden must have been a shock to the system?
I was lucky to pick up the technical skills quite quickly. My long history of previous technical sports enabled me to learn the peloton skills and big bunch pressures associated with racing. Local criteriums were a great tool for me to learn quickly in a fast moving experienced bunch.

PEZ: You went from DNF in the Nationals to second in one year - that's quite a jump.
Yes, I did not finish my 2017 Australian U23 Road Race. It was my first road race and I got caught out during one of the important attacks half way through the race. I did not have the endurance required to race a hard for four hours, however I thoroughly enjoyed my first Nationals and the race provided some good motivation to perform well the year after, and I most certainly succeeded in that objective which was very fulfilling for both myself and those who support me. Much of the improvement after my first nationals came from the guidance and smarts of my coach, Stephen Lane, who continues to provide a fantastic platform to progress my cycling physiologically and through enjoyment.

PEZ: I've read you funded your own trip to Europe, this year?
Yes, I paid for my flights to get a start at the U23 Ronde Van Vlaanderen. It was an expensive opportunity however Cycling Australia, my team, Drapac EF Holistic Development, and a few other key figures enabled myself to fill the final spot in the Australian national squad and I simply couldn't allow that opportunity to be missed. I know it’s not a conventional way to get a start in a European race but I am so glad that I made the decision to fly to Europe and participate in the two Nation Cup races. My team mate Cyrus and I were fortunate to have the support of our development team who organised the logistics and covered many costs that would enable the trip to be financially viable.

PEZ: Tell us about your preparation for Flanders.
I was focusing on the Oceania Road Race before I travelled to Europe. I was fortunate enough to claim the U23 Oceania Road Race title and that in itself gave me great confidence coming into the European racing.
Cyrus and I trained for a week on the Vlaanderen roads and did our best to learn the course and how to best ride cobbles. I guess one could say the weeks training and exploring the roads of the region provided enough preparation to be competitive in the U23 RVV. The preparation for Flanders was mostly concerned to learning the roads and rolling over as many cobbles as possible, my fitness was not a concern given my Oceania Road Race preparation.

PEZ: You must have got to like those cobbles and bergs pretty quickly!
I was surprised by how well I could ride the cobbles. I had never ridden on them prior to flying over to Belgium however the week of training taught me the basics and luckily I adapted quite quickly to the riding style. I am fortunate that I like punchy steep climbs so I was excited about the climbs on the finishing circuit of the U23 RVV.

PEZ: You have a 'Euro block' of racing coming up, which events will that include?
I travel back to Belgium in mid-June where I will race Pro kermises and UCI races with my current team until the end of July; that’s with Drapac EF Holistic Development P/b Cannonade. Hopefully I can get a start in the U23 Australian National Team in both Tour of L’Avenir and World Championships. I will begin my stagiaire roll with the World Tour team in August but I am in discussion with the management and yet to finalise my race schedule with the team.

PEZ: Any idea of the pro programme?
I’m in discussion with the management and yet to finalise my race schedule with the team but possibilities include the Tour of Britain, Japan Cup, one day races in Italy in October.

PEZ: Have you been to Girona yet to check it out - I believe it will be 'home' for you?
I have not been to Girona before but it looks like an amazing place to be live temporarily based on what I have heard. Girona will be my home during the stagiaire period and will most likely be my residence for my first year as a professional.

PEZ: I believe you're very committed to your studies; can you tell us about that ?
Yes, my studies are important to me and I think it’s great to be focused and passionate about something outside of cycling. I am in my third year of my Bachelor and will continue to study online with the flexible assistance of my university. I am studying the Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. My degree is concerned around the design and technical process of land use and development. For me, it is a great job to make a tangible difference to the liveability of a community and that idea of applying my knowledge whilst helping and working with others is very appealing and would be quite a rewarding career.

PEZ: Do you have a coach and what sort of training are you doing to get ready for Europe?
I am Coached by Stephen Lane from Human Performance Technology. I am currently in a base phase and getting ready for my European racing. My broken wrist resulted in six weeks on the indoor trainer however I am now back on the road and feeling fit. I am focussing my training on some of the possible climbing races beginning in late August and the World Championships.

PEZ: If you could win just one more race, it would be?
I would love to get a stage win in the Tour of L’Avenir and a Podium in the World Championships in September with the U23 Australian team. Both races suit me as a climber and would love to get a result.

PEZ: Finally - are pink and lime green 'your' colours?
Yes, they are now! Previously I would have said that blue was my favourite colour and the colour that perhaps looked best on me. However I think the pink and green of the World Tour team looks great and will fit quite nicely into my cycling. I cannot wait to pull on the colour of Pink Argyle and wear them well.
After all, the team and all involved are enabling me to pursue my passion as a cyclist and are providing me with the most exciting life opportunity to date.

# With thanks to Jessi Braverman of EF Drapac p/b Cannondale for facilitating this interview – we’ll be keeping an eye out for young Mr. Whelan during the Tour de L’Avenir. #

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site where more of his musings on our sport can be found.


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